Man of Action, Artist of Steel: Rouleau talks 'Action Comics'

Mon, October 14th, 2002 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

[Action Comics #790]Without a doubt, Superman is the most recognizable superhero in comic books and he has one of the most vocal groups of fans in the comic book world. It's not easy trying to make your mark as a comic book creator on a series involving the Man of Steel, but artist Duncan Rouleau has decided that the best way to depict Superman is to channel a bit of the titular hero: to be himself. Rouleau's brought his own unique flair to "Action Comics" for over two years now and while his style may not be consistent with the traditional renderings of the great American icon, he likes it that way. For those who aren't up to date on all things current with "Action Comics," Rouleau is ready to bring you up to speed….faster than a speeding bullet he says, with a smile on his face.

"Well let's see...there's the obligatory Clark Kent/Superman and Lois Lane. Then there's the regular cast at the Daily Planet, and Team Superman (Superboy, Supergirl, and Steel) The general tone of the book is trying to live your life being Superman, and some of the subplots involve the 'new' General Zod, his henchmen, Lex Luthor as the President of the United States and all the evil that comes with that, and the Elite, a cadre of morally questionable 'super heroes' and their attempt to prove themselves as superior to the older more classic approach to do-gooding that big blue embodies.

"How do 'I' define Superman? Joe Kelly and I talk about this all the time. To me it's always the 'Man' part of Superman. The ultimate immigrant who brings his tradition and his good work to the betterment of us all. He is constantly aspiring to be more than what he is. Just like America...wink, wink."

Rouleau's unique style of art, which is often inappropriately dismissed as "manga" (the perceived Japanese style of drawing comics), is hard to define by both his fans and detractors. "I guess you could define my style as 'argumentative.' I draw from Asian, European , American ( Kirby Ditko Warner Bros.) styles and they can appear at any point in a story and some times in the same panel. It is not a classic 'representative' style I work in. I think that's apparent. I love the comic book art form for it lack of borders, and I am constantly trying to find methods that are reflective of that. As much as the sequential element moves story I've been focusing in on distortion to comment upon the subtext of the narrative. This gives me a forum to use the art as a commentary outside and on the story. I don't want my comics to look like anything else, but I still want them to be familiar. I have mixed success with this. As far as why I think this is a good fit for Big Blue, Superman is an American icon and I thought my argumentative style might work. What's a more American tradition than a melting pot of influences constantly arguing amongst themselves?"

[Art from Adventures of Superman #606]If you're thinking that it was a combination of Rouleau's love for the Superman character and his thoughts regarding his art's fit for the aforementioned American icon that got him the job on "Action Comics," you probably wouldn't be entirely wrong, but it turns out that DC came looking for him. "It all happened in a strange round about way," laughs Rouleau. "Eddie Berganza had asked me a long time ago if I would be interested in doing 'Young Justice.' I was drawing 'X-Factor' at the time and passed. Cut to several years later and Joe Kelly, with whom I have a long collaboration with on books like 'M. Rex' and many other side projects, came on the title. After several other artists moved on Eddie and Joe asked me to join- I was nervous at first. Superman is such an icon, and I have an unorthodox style. Eddie convinced me that he wanted to move the books look in less conventional ways to bring in audiences outside the normal readership. Make a long story short. A team like Eddie and Joe...I was a fool not to say yes."

A big part of Rouleau's contributions to "Action Comics" has been his great designs, from the creepy Kancer to the imposing Zod, both of whom epitomize one simple fact that is reiterated by all of the artist's fans: this man has an eye for detail. "Well, first thanks," says Rouleau to those fans that have complimented him on his designs. "I think why people respond to my 'monsters' and 'robots' and 'tech' is because people are more willing to accept abstraction in these places. The very nature of the fantastic metaphoric element in comics demands this. I find that people do not respond to these abstractions as easily when it comes to the human players and while part of me understands this, part of me thinks it strange. We all want to identify with these characters, but I think (especially with someone like Joe Kelly) humanity comes in how they behave ...through the story, the characterization, that's the humanity. My abstraction is an attempt to clear the way for that and make the visuals almost symbols like text as counter melody ...The super powers, the costumes, the set pieces etc. Personally I love the surreal of it all, it makes it more real for me somehow.

"My visual Superman reference is the Ross/Fleisher stuff. I love that bulky but not muscular look. As far as reference to the rest of the cast I pull those from all over the time line. I love thinking of Lois as that snappy 1940's gumshoe type, but I'm trying ways to update that, but keep the feel. In general, I'm looking to identify them with fewer lines, and use their movement to capture their souls."

Rouleau also says he feels like he's finally got a hold of his comic book career, after having only done little bits of work in the past before getting a steady job on "Action Comics." "I've had a patch work of a background. It ranges from opening up for Black Flag in 84 to driving Kurt Vonnegut around in a limo. I've worked in film, almost every aspect. I've done storyboards. I studied theater and art in school. I try to bring that all into my art. As far as the practical, Hart Fisher at Bone Yard gave me my first book. My second book was 'Wolverine' for Marvel. Autonomy is what attracted me to comic books. I've written several screenplays and worked in a Hollywood 'collaborative' method. If you want to work inside the art as commerce paradigm and have a chance to see your own personal vision in the final product.... comics are it baby! Maybe novels, too. That and the soul feeding reason, where else can you dip your feet in pure imagination - with the possibility that anything can happen. That is what comics are. As a kid I was inspired by John Byrne, Neil Adams, Gil Kane, but as an adult it's gotta be Jack Kirby & Alex Toth. I love Carlos Meglia's stuff, Ladronn, Jean Paul Leon, Tim Sale...to mention a few. There are some really talented guys out there. The thing I like about these guys specifically is they take chances."

The wide variety of creators that have impacted Rouleau have led to him having some very unique ideas when it comes to storytelling and while he admits to suggesting some plot concepts for "Action Concepts," he leaves the story telling to fellow business partners (in the Man of Action LLC) on the Superman comics. "Joe and I work on many different things. All of them feed off each other and feed into each other. Joe and the other writers construct the larger plots (especially with Joe Casey and now Steven T. Seagle - both charter members of Man of Action). I put my two cents in with 'Action' primarily, but it's our interplay and trust that ultimately steer the tone of the book."

Another aspect of the Super-comics that can lead to some difficulty is the sheer enormity of the character, admits Rouleau. "Superman is daunting. He is bigger than I imagined, and I am constantly rechecking myself as I approach him. This has made it a slow but interesting climb. The easiest aspect of working on the comics though? Hmmm. Working with friends." It's also a lot easier than working on "Alpha Flight," where Rouleau and fellow Super-Scribe Steve Seagle worked together in the 90's. "Sure of course this is harder, although that series and others, like 'Legion Worlds' for example (of which I illustrated #4) have their own host of issues. Those Canadians love their Alpha Flight."

[Art from Adventures of Superman #606]It's no secret that there are some vocal fans who don't like Rouleau's art style and criticize it as "manga," saying his style is too loose for the Superman comics. "I would not classify myself as manga...quite frankly the manga I fell in love with was when I was a kid: Speed Racer and Prince Planet," says Rouleau, responding to his detractors. "I'm not that familar with the more modern stuff. I think Manga is a term thrown around a lot when people don't know what else to say: it's easier than looking closely. As far as my response, people should say what ever they want. Although I admit, I would feel unsuccessful sometimes if it weren't for the fact people like Jeph Loeb, Joe Kelly, Joe Casey, Steve Seagle, Jim Krueger and Brian Bendis to name a few want to work with me. As far as S-fans? I always hope that I'm doing something that you can get into. And I've gotten a lot of positive feed back, from both old and new fan. But there are those who don't, and I'd rather have you hate my stuff than have no opinion at all."

Through all the tough times, Rouleau's had a lot of fun and cites a few issues as his favorites. "Well. I loved the 'Captain My Captain' story (Captain Marvel guest spot) because it was a romp, with some real twisted elements inside and also because it was self-contained. I am enjoying the larger General Zod story, but that's because I know what's coming."

It's been reported that what's coming also involves the other artist of "Action Comics," Pascual Ferry, taking over the art chores permanently after issue #800, but Rouleau says that notion is a result of miscommunication. "I think that was actually misprinted. Pascual has signed an exclusive with D.C., but I am going to still work on 'Action' for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile Joe Kelly and I are working on a graphic novel, a punk rock adventure called the 'Public Privates' that we've been discussing with various publishers. We will have something to announce a little later this year. Man of Action also has a video game 'Atom X' that we are doing with Warthog (a hot British developer)- I've been doing the designs for that."

Rouleau's also making sure to keep dreaming about his dream projects, which include a box-office giant and a DC cult favorite character, both of whom he thinks he could do some great work with some day. "I still have a few fan boy titles to work on, Spider-Man being one. The Demon, another- Why? Because they meant so much to me as a kid."

The artist also has quite a few theories on how to get the comic book industry back in the mainstream, though Rouleau himself admits that his words on that subject alone could constitute another interview. "Don't get me started on this one. Format (different sized book), distribution and marketing all cost a great deal of money to be truly effective. We've got to try everything. I think the art and the stories are some of the best that has ever been in American Comics, but America as a whole doesn't even know comics still exist. Now is not the time to cater just to the loyal crowd, sorry guys. We've become too contained, American comics were wild, radical and experimental (I mean the super hero....cape and tights!). We've become too institutionalized, and in the immortal words of Robert Evans 'you play it safe, you'll never touch magic.' What are comics supposed to be, if anything but magic?"

"Art is a living process. I think as I move on, clarity, precision, and simplicity are my catch phrases," says Rouleau of what you can expect of his work in the future and has these additional parting words for readers, "Have you own opinion, but get it honestly, by your own hard work. Oh, also long live rock!"

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